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Gardening Insights From a Dead President

Gardening Insights From a Dead President

I don’t know about you, but when I think about learning about former Presidents of the United States, my first thought isn’t that I will learn practical, day-to-day life skills from them. Sure, I might learn principles to build my life upon (if I respect them), or I might learn lessons about how not to live life or handle situations (if I believe them to have been wrong or a failure). But I don’t expect to find insights about practical things from them.

Here is an instance when I was wrong: Advice from Thomas Jefferson on gardening.

Of course, I shouldn’t be surprised. Jefferson was a farmer before he was a U.S. President and was a farmer after he left office, so it only makes sense that he would have some useful tips for your garden. Here are five of those tips:

1. Experiment Extensively: Remember that your garden is not a final destination to reach. You are taking a journey to get continually better results and to try different things. Think of it as an opportunity to practice kaizen, the process of continuous improvement made famous by the Japanese (but developed by American W. Edwards Deming). Tricia Drevets writes,

“When he traveled throughout our young country and abroad, Jefferson often exchanged seeds and seedlings with other gardeners. He enjoyed cultivating those seeds and young plants in his Monticello garden.

“Because he grew a variety of crops, including a mix of tropical species with cool weather crops, he devised a unique terraced landscape for his 1,000-foot-long vegetable garden. By placing the garden on a south-facing slope, he was able to capture abundant sunshine.”

2. Grow What You Eat: You’re more likely to try to perfect what you actually are using and (hopefully) enjoying. Also, from a survival perspective, it makes sense to make sure that your own food needs are met before growing extra for trade purposes.

3. Go Natural: Jefferson looked for natural solutions to agricultural problems, which is something the modern organic gardening movement advocates. Like many in the organic movement, he advised that insect problems were caused by weak plants grown in depleted soil. His advice to his daughter when she had this situation? Cover the soil during winter months with “a heavy coating of manure. When is rich it bids defiance to droughts, yields in abundance, and of the best quality.”

4. Keep Notes: Pretty simple: You can’t improve what you are not tracking because you can’t review everything that has worked (or hasn’t). To try to keep it all in your head is only fooling yourself.

5. Make Your Garden An Area For Retreat: Nature and natural settings have a rejuvenating power for the body, mind, and spirit. Spending time outside of man-made confines has documented benefits, and your garden is a perfect place to experience this.

What gardening advice would you add to Mr. Jefferson’s? Tell us below.

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